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The Monday Papers

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Sundays are for playing board games. Like, loads of them. Back to back. Apart from when you’re reading about video games.

I’m opening the Papers this week with one of the many editorials about Steam’s recent policy decision, because of course I am. I’ve gone with Oli Welsh’s for Eurogamer, because he does a good job of identifying exactly what Steam is within the world of PC gaming – and why it has a responsibility to, yunno, accept some responsibility.

Yes, game creators have a right to free speech, to make games on any topic they like, as transgressive and offensive as the law allows. But they do not have a right to publish these games on Steam. For Valve to confuse these two things is a deluded fallacy, and for it to offer this delusion as an excuse for an abandonment of moral values and an abdication of social responsibility is rank cowardice.

I found Midboss(Em)’s interrogation of ‘asset flipping’ interesting, even if I think some of it must have gone over my head. Em makes some good points, though surely some instances of asset flipping are recognisable as such and DO constitute a lazy way of profiting off of other people’s work?

An asset can even be more than a digital file of some sort that is copied between game makers and games, in practice it can extend to a concept. Pipes in Flappy Bird, for example, are described as “ripped” even though they are demonstrably not the same image as the one used to represent pipes in the cited Mario games, yet when the same thing appears in several beloved prestige indie titles, it’s a loving homage, an engagement with the form’s history and conventions, bla bla bla… well, which is it, though? Coming back to the jarring, low poly white-gloved hands of the hiker in Sexy Hiking, aren’t they weirdly evocative of Mario as well?

Edwin Evans-Thirlwell, occasionally of this parish, reviewed Cultist Simulator for Eurogamer. I wrote a supporter post earlier this week that touched on the same link between boredom and brilliance that Edwin talks about, though I’m more conflicted about Cult Sim’s greatness than he is. It’s repetitive and dull and a little bit magic, and I’m still not sure how I feel about that.

This mundane rhythm keeps up throughout the ensuing 20 or 30 hours, as cards and timers of all kinds slowly cover the tabletop, each accompanied by a gravid yet delicate prose snippet about the game’s curious, alternate-1920s England. It’s the bassline for an experience that is as much an investigation of mind-killing drudgery as it is a homage to the wayward imagination – indeed, an experience that derives much of its mystery and threat from their inseparability.

I had no idea there was an entire world of racist mods for Paradox games, but I do now thanks to Luke Winkie’s article on Kotaku. I appreciate Ted52’s attempts to clean up the alt-right praise surrounding his mod, but I despair at the way he doesn’t take that as evidence he shouldn’t have made it in the first place. His mod isn’t quite as bad as the explicitly racist ones mentioned elsewhere in the piece, but it still clearly enables and encourages racism – and that’s obviously not something the world needs any more of. (Seen as it’s so relevant, I can’t resist dropping in this excellent ContraPoints video about understanding the tactics of the alt-right.)

[Ted52] swears up and down that his mod isn’t meant to be digested as a political statement, or a conduit for some sort of Nazi fantasy, but he’s still been inundated with those kind of fans. “It doesn’t feel great,” he says, when his community is overrun by “either by far-right forces or by trolls pretending to be far-right.” Obliterating the Steam forums, he says, was a necessary first step. Unfortunately, as any fan of Paradox games knows, that air of xenophobia in the scene isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

On the Verge, Patricia Hernandez wrote about a developer who responded to a pro player’s “joke” about shooting up his studio – by drawing a dick on the special gun cosmetic he’d won in a tournament. It’s an interesting story, and I’m glad Hernandez asked an online harassment researcher what she thought about it. My initial response was ‘oh, that’s neat’ – but yeah, it probably isn’t.

Although there are some instances where responding individually with empathy or levity can help change behavior for the better, that isn’t scalable to large volumes of abuse — and it can also reinforce negative behavior, particularly if the person making the threat is looking for attention or a reaction. “The norm we see again and again online is that the way to be seen is to be inflammatory,” says Lo. “When people who are playing a game don’t like it, they harass the developers in the forums as a form of exercising power or to get them to do what they want… You don’t want to validate threats of violence as an option for being heard.”

I stopped reading Astrid Budgor’s breakdown of horror game Paratropic halfway through when I realised she’d made me desperately want to play it, and I didn’t want to see any more spoilers. I’ll be sure to come back to it though, because this is whip-smart stuff.

The game’s fascination with eerie frissons in familiar places, with the intangible border between here and there, evokes, among many other things, the writing of J.G. Ballard. The Ballardian is marked by alienation, masochism, urban structures haunted by emptiness, and the hollow violence of wealth. But where Ballard’s characters were often disaffected upper-class types, Paratopic depicts a precariat milieu of dingy apartments, highway gas stations, and grimy diners. These are the spaces accessible to people with no money, people who may be desperate or disenfranchised or simply passing through.

Amanda Hudgins wrote about how Gamergate nearly made her leave the industry. I don’t have anything to add, just read it.

Don’t tell me this isn’t about women. I’ve been here since the beginning, when it was just slut-shaming one developer. When it was calling her and masturbating into her phone because she released a game about depression. I’ve watched women flee from their homes, give up their careers, all as their lives have been splayed on the altar of journalistic integrity. I’ve seen the effects of #GamerGate, the vitriolic core. It may have skinned itself in another cause and paraded itself around, but it hasn’t changed. Not really.

I posted about this the other day, but here’s Derek Yu on Steve Gaynor’s Tone Control podcast. I’ve since listened to it and I’ve now worked out every single detail about Spelunky 2, but I’m not telling.

Music this week is Fade & Fall by Eliza Carthy & The Wayward Band.

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Matt Cox

Staff Writer

Matt is the founding member of RPS's youth contingent. He's played more games of Dota than you've had hot dinners.

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